Donned in their fleece jackets, long trousers, and boots, I just stared at the herd of people rushing to different directions. The only thing that separated me from them was the thin clear glass bearing the legendary icon of a  green Siren. That twin-tailed mermaid sheltered me for two hours while I was crowd-watching and sipping my favorite hot chocolate beverage with sandwich on one hand. On that frigid day of February, Starbucks was packed with strangers. Or should I say Hong Kong was because on our last day, I chose not to join my officemates-slash-friends who preferred to live like Disney princes and princesses for one whole day in Disneyland. I had my breakfast alone, wandered alone, and was having my drink alone.

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At one of the parks in HK

Since I had the whole day for myself, I mapped plans where to go next which includes visit to a museum, walk in a park, shoe hunting, food chasing and tasting, and pedestrian crossing (I must’ve been that bored to even think of counting pedestrians I’d have to cross). In gist, I tried to be a pretentious street-smart guy from the Philippines. It was my second time in Hong Kong so I must act like someone who is familiar to all corners of the city. Many times, my acting skill failed me.

RETIREMENT

Someone is going to retire. This is one reason I was in Hong Kong.

Only a few people at my age would think of retirement. I was only two decades and three years young… six years ago (do the math). Retirement is a big word many refuse to talk about albeit it is inevitably a stage in our life we would have to live. Someone who’s in his late 20s like me wouldn’t dare to think of it until he reaches his mid-life. By then, retirement becomes a thought that might possibly bring fear or excitement. As furrows in our faces slowly begin to manifest, we learn to measure which side weighs heavier: fear or excitement? In my case, it couldn’t be both because my own dictionary stipulates that equality is the synonym of impossible. And besides, I believe that “both” is a nemesis of the braves and best friend of the cowards.

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View from Victoria Peak

Fearing retirement comes in a lot of forms – fear of aging, financial stability, being insignificant to your family, and irrelevant in the society. Freedom on the other hand makes retirement exciting – freedom from your 9-hour job which parallels to freedom from the everyday hassle of commuting (in the Philippines), slavery of heaping paperwork and horrible bosses, and office politics and intrigues.

I don’t think of retirement yet, much more of retiring this time, but I’m sure one day I would make myself deeply tangled with the word.

MA’AM ANA

Just like Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, I also love clichés. One of my favorite clichés says “people in our lives just come and go.” Yet, we choose who we want to keep. Maybe they are the ones who made a difference in our lives or made us different; those who touched our humanity; those who inspired us; those who believed in us; those who made us feel that our existence matters; or those who just simply made an impact on us. There are plenty of reasons why we keep people. You and I might see it from distincly diverse angles. But there’s one thing common to everyone: we keep those we want to be part of our lives while our years in this planet pile up no matter where we are, what we do, and what we have become.

Ma’am Ana is someone who embodies that person. Thus, she deserves a space here.

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With Ma’am Ana

She is Ana Corazon Tin to her clients, a banker for more than 30 years. But to me, her insurance partner in the bank, to her staff, colleagues and close friends, she is Ma’am Ana – a simple woman whose smile brightens up her whole workplace; someone who can turn strong words into a soft sword with no edge; and a person who knows no acts but kindness.

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Team BPI West Greenhills at Victoria Peak

Before we start the day inside the bank, we would always have our 20 to 30-minute session together. More than work-related stuff, we would talk of life, current events, and anything we find interesting. Two months shy before her mandatory retirement, she would constantly share her plans when she becomes jobless.

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Dinner at Din Tai Fung

First thing in her list is to clean clutters in her home. Ma’am Ana has a lot of cleaning to do stemming from decades of collecting stuff which she thought at first was important. Second is to read all books from her shelf. I actually gave her one which she promised to read when she visits her daughter in Singapore. Third is to have a small retail (sari-sari) store that would keep her busy. She would miss her daily routine in the bank; a store would patch the boredom. Fourth is to be a volunteer in a nursing home for the elderly — at least once a month (what a noble act!). Fifth is to spend more time with her family, catch up with her daughters and relatives abroad, and take care of her grandchildren. I’m sure she’s a granny every grandchild would desire. Lastly, travel to Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand.

WORK AND PLAY

Traveling is one of the top priorities of employees who retire from their jobs. To me it sounds as if they were deprived of it during their working years; that traveling is elusive and they only get to enjoy it if there’s no day or night job they would have to go back to after each travel. Budget air fares, cheap hotels and affordable travel tours are sprouting everywhere – providing us no excuse to conquer oceans after oceans.

Why wait for retirement if we can travel while working? There’s symbiosis between Work and Play. Playing and working shall be every employee’s mantra to keep us fueled in accomplishing our daily task. That’s what my family at work did in February which coincides with the celebration of Chinese New Year.

We’ve flown to Hong Kong not just to experience winter feels in Asia and give Ma’am Ana the most unforgettable dinner before leaving her work permanently, but also to put a fleeting hiatus at work, and just play literally. It was a moment when playing mutated to walking and trotting tirelessly, chatting and laughing heartily, sharing of stories and experiences profoundly, eating and drinking ceaselessly, and sleeping or not sleeping together soundly. It was my first trip with my BPI West Greenhills family. Not only did I stay in Hong Kong during my five-day vacation, I also revisited Macau and made my first land in China.

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At Ruins of St. Paul in Macau

After touring the city the whole day alone, I joined my officemates for dinner. We had our last meal together in Hong Kong until we all agreed to retire our eyes early that night due to exhaustion. Come next day, we hurried to the ferry terminal for Macau – the final leg of our trip. We missed our scheduled departure so we had to rebook it.

Breezy atmosphere welcomed us in Macau. It was also when the fastest four hours of our lives commenced. We had to make sure that we cover the usual tourist spots in the city for us not to miss our flight to Manila at 9ish in the evening. So when it was time for us to leave the place, we hopped on the bus going to the airport. Upon alighting, we dashed our way to the terminal. I came across the twin-tailed mermaid again. That time, I didn’t stop to grab a cup of my favorite chocolate drink. I switched places with strangers. They were the ones behind the clear glass. And I, together with my friends, joined the herd of people as they watched us rushing to the airport.